Vigil over First Na­tions deaths en­ters fourth week

Fund­ing de­lays mean youth in re­mote First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties go with­out men­tal health care

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - By PETER BIESTERFELD news@now­ | @now­toronto

Car­rie Lester is try­ing to stop a leak be­tween the two gazebo tents she and fel­low ac­tivists Si­grid Kn­eve and Sue Lynn Manone Corn­foot have been oc­cu­py­ing just steps from the of­fices of In­dige­nous and North­ern Af­fairs Canada (INAC) at 25 St. Clair East since July 20.

The three women have been call­ing on fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments to re­lease al­lo­cated men­tal health monies to ad­dress In­dige­nous youth sui­cide is­sues af­ter a rash of re­cent deaths. Corn­foot is hand­ing out pam­phlets to passersby scur­ry­ing through the rain storm. The depth of the cri­sis is spelled out in the brochure.

There have been more than 500 sui­cides (out of a pop­u­la­tion of 45,000) since 1986 in 49 North­ern On­tario com­mu­ni­ties rep­re­sented by the Nish­nawbe Aski Na­tion (NAN). More than 70 were chil­dren aged 10 to 14; an­other 200 were youth aged 15 to 20.

An emer­gency meet­ing to deal with youth sui­cides promised by the of­fice of Carolyn Ben­nett, Min­is­ter of In­dige­nous and North­ern Af­fairs, won’t take place now un­til Septem­ber.

Kn­eve says the need now is for ac­tion. “They’ve done the re­search, they’ve come to their con­clu­sions, they just need to re­lease the money.”

On June 24, the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on In­dige­nous and North­ern Af­fairs tabled a re­port en­ti­tled, Break­ing Point: The Sui­cide Cri­sis in In­dige­nous Com­mu­ni­ties.

A sur­vey in­cluded in the re­port on the qual­ity and avail­abil­ity of men­tal health ser­vices in In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties re­veals that wait times to ac­cess these ser­vices re­sulted in some clients go­ing with­out care.

The sur­vey, which was sent to more than 50 ad­min­is­tra­tors and front line work­ers in hos­pi­tals, treat­ment cen­tres and com­mu­nity health fa­cil­i­ties from Nunavut to New­found­land and Labrador, as­sessed the over­all qual­ity of men­tal health ser­vices as poor or be­low av­er­age. More than half of the sur­vey’s re­spon­dents (51.5 per cent) cited not enough staff as the rea­son for in­ad­e­quate ser­vices. Al­most as many (43.6 per cent) cited in­ad­e­quate train­ing.

On July 24 pro­vin­cial health min­is­ter Eric Hoskins promised $1.6 mil­lion to pay for 20 men­tal health work­er­sto­helppeo­pleinPikangikum First Na­tion cope with four re­cent youth sui­cides in­side of a week. The min­is­ter wrapped into the same an­nounce­ment an al­lo­ca­tion of $200,000 for four ad­di­tional men­tal health coun­sel­lors for Wapekeka First Na­tion, the re­mote Ojib­way com­mu­nity (pop­u­la­tion 355) 450 kilo­me­tres north of Sioux Look­out.

Lester says that fund­ing was promised last year when the com­mu­nity was go­ing through a spike in sui­cides but the money was never de­liv­ered. “That’s crim­i­nal,” says Lester.

Re­source ex­ploita­tion and ac­cess to land for hunt­ing and fish­ing is a big is­sue around com­mu­nity well­be­ing. Many First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties are built on flood plain and, says Lester, “there is al­ways an­other re­source un­der­neath to ex­tract,” forc­ing mul­ti­ple re­lo­ca­tions of some com­mu­ni­ties. She says “There is a mul­ti­fac­eted num­ber of things that need to be done all at once,” in­clud­ing ac­cess to drink­able wa­ter.

The rain has let up and the 30 or so who didn’t get the mes­sage on Face­book that the march to Ben­nett’s rid­ing of­fice was can­celled, light their torches.

Lester, Kn­eve and Corn­foot say they don’t know how long they will con­tinue their vigil. They are ask­ing sup­port­ers to flood the in­boxes of govern­ment de­ci­sion mak­ers af­ter three more sui­cides were re­ported last week.

Sue Lynn Manone Corn­foot, Car­rie Lester and Si­grid Kn­eve have been hold­ing vigil out­side INAC of­fices since July 20.

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